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Phl eyes more US warships

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines wants to acquire two more navy ships from the United States to boost its maritime defense capability amid threats from China, Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said yesterday.

The new acquisitions would come under the fresh US military assistance announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry when he visited the Philippines last month, Bautista said.

“Within the last year, we realized that there is a real threat out there in terms of securing, defending our territory,” Bautista told ANC television.

He said that ideally, the country needs about six more frigates to guard its long coastline effectively.

“In fact, we are bidding now for two frigates, hopefully we will be able to acquire them in a couple of years,” Bautista said.

He said he has made “maritime domain awareness” and protection a key concern of his leadership.

The funds used to boost maritime defense, he said, would come from the $40-million military assistance pledged by Kerry in December.

The Philippines has already acquired two refurbished American frigates in the past two years, and they now lead patrols in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines, a long-time US military ally, has been locked in an increasingly tense standoff with China involving disputed reefs and islands in the West Philippine Sea.

In 2012, the flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the first acquired from the US, confronted Chinese ships on Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a small outcrop just off Zambales.

The Chinese eventually gained control of the outcrop after Manila backed down.

However, the government sought UN arbitration to settle the dispute, a move rejected by China.

Manila has also increasingly looked to the US for help, and negotiations are ongoing for an increased rotational presence of American soldiers in the Philippines as part of Washington’s “pivot” to Asia.

Bautista said the Gregorio del Pilar and another frigate that arrived last year have been deployed to protect the country’s waters.

“There are Chinese fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea as we speak,” he said, but declined to say where they were in the disputed waters.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including waters near the coast of its neighbors.

Recently, it has declared an “air defense identification zone” over the East China Sea where it is engaged in a dispute with Japan.

Bautista said Filipinos should stand up for their rights even as he gave assurance that the military would perform its mandate to defend the country.

“Let’s put it this way: should we give in to terror? To threats and intimidation? Should we? We should not. Should we give in to threats, intimidation, terror, violence of any armed group in our country? We should stand up for our rights as a people,” Bautista told reporters in Bacolor in Pampanga.

“We just go on with our normal lives. We have brought the case for international arbitration and we will continue to do that, pursue that. We will continue with our mandate also,” he added.

When asked what the military would do in case Chinese ships stop Filipino fishermen from doing their usual activities, Bautista answered, “That is hypothetical.”

“As a country we renounce war as an instrument of national policy and so we submit to the peaceful resolution of conflict,” he said.

Kerry has warned China against imposing a similar restriction over the South China Sea, and said the US government also rejected the zone over the East China Sea.

Last week China also announced a new fisheries law requiring foreign vessels to seek permits for activities in much of the South China Sea, in another move that triggered angry protests from Manila.

The Department of Foreign Affairs immediately expressed grave concern over China’s move and sought clarification.Jess Diaz, Alexis Romero

ALEXIS ROMERO ARMED FORCES BAUTISTA CHINA DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS EAST CHINA SEA EMMANUEL BAUTISTA SEA SOUTH CHINA SEA WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
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